Column: With Colin Firth and ‘The Staircase,’ HBO Max turns true crime into truly riveting drama


In these periods of Extraordinary Peak Tv set, real criminal offense is the streaming gift that retains on offering.

Irrespective of whether it is the saga of convicted tech-fraudster Elizabeth Holmes (“The Dropout,” on Hulu) the tabloid tale of convicted New York Town larcenist Anna Sorokin (Netflix’s “Inventing Anna”) or the creepy exploits of the now-disgraced psychiatrist Dr. Isaac Herschkopf (“The Shrink Upcoming Door” on Apple Tv+), our queues are crammed with ripped-from-the-headlines spectacular collection that started as books, podcasts and/or documentaries dependent on correct-crime tales.

Now, HBO Max has given us “The Staircase,” a juicy true-criminal offense dramatic miniseries dependent on the correct-crime documentary series of the exact identify. That nesting-doll system may possibly be getting a bit stale, but with an Emmy-worthy Colin Firth leading a deep-dish cast, “The Staircase” is gripping Television set at its white-knuckle finest.

Like Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s groundbreaking 2004 documentary sequence, the HBO Max edition attempts to unwind the challenging story guiding the death of Kathleen Peterson (played by Toni Collette), which may possibly or might not have been at the arms of her spouse, author Michael Peterson (Firth).

On the evening of Dec. 9, 2001, a hysterical Michael Peterson known as 911 from the couple’s mansion in Durham, N.C., to say that Kathleen had fallen down the stairs. When the police arrived, they discovered a battered, blood-lined Kathleen and what appeared not at all like an incident and really much like a crime scene.

Michael attributed her fall to a combination of alcoholic beverages and Valium the authorities pretty much promptly attributed her dying to Michael.

From there, showrunners Antonio Campos (“The Devil All the Time”) and Maggie Cohn (“Impeachment: American Criminal offense Story”) take you on a dizzying eight-episode lookup for the fact, a journey created even trickier by the actuality that reality-telling is not genuinely a aspect of Michael’s skill set.

Michael is shifty about a ton of matters. His sexuality. How he came to be the father of daughters Margaret (Sophie Turner of “Game of Thrones”) and Martha (Odessa Younger, “The Stand”). His definition of “infidelity.” This is a massive problem for his large-time lawyer David Rudolf (Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name”), but it can make for riveting viewing.

In “The Staircase,” the did-he-or-did not-he query comes up early and normally, as the prosecution crew builds a convincing scenario that Michael’s several lies caught up with him, and Kathleen compensated the selling price, and the defense tells an similarly compelling story about a relationship of soulmates that finished in a tragic, but explainable accident.

Is Michael a manipulative, lying assassin? Or is he a difficult, convention-flouting gentleman caught in a in no way-ending nightmare? Many thanks to Firth’s unsparing, but refined performance, Michael could be any of those things at any time.

In tender moments with Collette, Firth can make you consider that Michael cherished Kathleen much too a lot to be her killer. When he is efficiently chatting-up a likely male hook-up when Kathleen is arranging a fund-elevating evening meal for his town-council marketing campaign, you are not so certain.

And when his makes an attempt to justify retaining a crucial piece of information from his legal group (“It was 20 decades back!” he bellows. “In Germany!”), Firth appears to be and seems like a guy who is at the conclusion of his tether. But is it simply because he’s remaining tortured by dreadful situation, or for the reason that the dreadful truth of the matter is catching up with him?

As portrayed by Firth, you never ever know what to think or how to truly feel. And offered the several twists and turns the scenario has taken in excess of its prolonged authorized journey, he captured the actual Michael Peterson in all of his doable incarnations.

With the exception of a miscast Parker Posey as prosecutor Freda Black, the starry “Staircase” forged is a good match for the show’s primary person. The lively Collette gives Kathleen so a lot of layers — pressured, but graciously capable classy, however impulsive loving but possibly not fully trusting — that this criminal offense sufferer is nearly anything but silent. Collette’s Kathleen is as difficult in everyday living as she is in demise.

As the shell-stunned young children in the Petersons’ blended family members, Turner, Young, Olivia DeJonge, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Dane DeHaan are fiercely devoted to their parents but susceptible to the impact of the a lot of manipulative older people in their ever more fractured life. The quietly commanding Stuhlbarg performs Michael’s lawyer as both of those an ally and a shark, and hold an eye out for Juliette Binoche in a position critics are not intended to converse about in advance.

The very first two episodes eliminate some steam in the course of their several time shifts, but when all the storylines converge in the third episode, you will be a lot more than completely ready to observe “The Staircase” where ever it chooses to go. When it arrives to the Petersons, you can not often feel what you see. But you just cannot quit observing, possibly.

The first a few episodes of “The Staircase” are streaming now on HBO Max, adopted by just one new episode a 7 days by June 9.


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